Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas in China

Since this was my first Christmas overseas, I was painfully aware of just how different it was being away from home. The shops were not plastered with Christmas promotions, although in the local grocery stores you could hear the sounds of Christmas music intermixed with Chinese pop music. There were a few decorations being sold, but nothing like what we would experience in the States. Just after Thanksgiving I went with a couple of friend to BinJiang Dao, (the largest shopping street in Tianjin) to look for a small Christmas tree. You would think that in a city of 11 million there would be plenty to pick from...but there were only 4! Yes, I said it...only four Christmas trees in the upstairs loft of a side street shop selling a variety of Christmas wares.

Luckily, I had thought ahead and brought some special ornaments from home to decorate my tree with. This gave me comfort, knowing that the familiarity of Christmas(es) past would still be with me. I lovingly decorated my tree with bittersweet memories of playing Kenny G Christmas music and the excitement of Ryan and Lacey as little kids, anticipating Christmas morning. I missed all the traditions of making a special Christmas Eve dinner for the family and going to a tradional candlelight service. I missed opening up one gift on Christmas Eve always knowing that there would be new PJ's for the kids to wear so they would look cute on Christmas morning when I took pictures of them opening presents. All this was lost here in China. I suppose now that Ryan and Lacey are married, I would've been going through this to some degree regardless...I mean they wouldn't be waking up at my house on Christmas morning, running downstairs in their cute new PJ's to open up gifts anyway, right? But it just seemed a little more sad not being able to spend the time with them.

I decided to go with a new friend down to Shanxi Lu, the official Chinese church for a Christmas concert that they do annually. I had no idea what I was in store for. Apparently, Christmas Eve in China is an all out party! Tens of thousands of people go to the huge shopping street and go crazy shopping! It's a free for all of shopping frenzy with everything being sold from blinking Santa hats to Madri Gras hats and Halloween masks. Only buses are allowed to run and the police are out in full force to make human barriers to hold back crowds. It's much like New Year's Eve in Times Square-Insane! Christmas Eve is also a night for couples to have an expensive dinner and go to check out the local churches to hear the concerts. It's a date night for people to enjoy, but without any real thought as to the historic or faith based reasons to celebrate the birth of Christ.

After an hour of trying to get through the traffic and battle the crowds, my friend and I finally got to Shanxi Lu. Again, the place was so packed out that there was no place to sit-so I stood...for 2 hours shoulder to head with tons of onlookers, until my legs could take no more. (I captured a bit of the spirit of the evening inside the church with a video on Youtube if you're interested-Chinachick61) I couldnt help again being sad for such beautiful songs to be sung and yet there seemed to be no real comprehension for most present of the huge significance of the One who was being sung about. I kept thinking about the thousands of insane, lost shoppers and wondering what Chairman Mao would think of this capitalistic craziness and these Christmas songs invading his communist based country. I thought of my own culture and realized how similar it is in America with so many people more worried about shopping and feeling obligated to go to a Christmas Eve service than they are about celebrating the birth of a Savior. So what is the difference? I'm not really sure I have the answer. All I know is that Christmas at home sure feels a lot better than it does here, and I wish I really could say, "I'll be home for Christmas."


Friday, November 28, 2008

English Anyone?

How many college students can you fit into one room? I don’t know for sure, but about seventy students crammed into this classroom last week to attend the first ever English Corner. In this particular village, there are about 2 million people, four small universities and only one (that’s right-I said one) foreigner! Can you imagine being the only non-Chinese in a city of 2 million? Mind boggling!

Anyway, another American friend and I were asked to be guest speakers there and talk about America, Thanksgiving, and what our life is like as Americans. Everything was to be done in English (great for me!) and the students were also required to speak only in English as well. Because there are no native English speakers to practice with, many students are nervous about their speaking skills. They are afraid their pronunciation or grammar will be wrong and they will sound foolish. It’s the same way I feel speaking Chinese. It’s a big risk to speak aloud in front of a lot of people knowing how awful you sound to native speakers, but they did it! I was actually pretty impressed with how well they did, considering the lack of interaction they have with any foreigners.

My friend and I talked about the history of Thanksgiving and why we are grateful for our freedoms and our lives. We talked about the Thanksgiving celebration itself, the foods and traditions we have for this holiday. We also talked about our lives in American and tried to dispel some of the myths/stereotypes that many Chinese have of Americans. Think of the movies that they see…that we all see coming out of Hollywood. It’s horrible to think that the images portrayed about America and Americans have become reality in the minds of people all over the world! For most Chinese, all Americans are rich, own guns, are violent, promiscuous, selfish and arrogant. They are wasteful, don’t study hard, and family is not that important to them. It’s very difficult to change these ideas and is definitely not going to happen as a guest speaker at one English Corner; however I am hopeful that if enough Americans working or studying overseas will live decent lives, lives that contradict the world’s stereotypes, than eventually people will have to re-examine their ideas about what Americans are really like. It’s too bad that I always feel like I’m swimming upstream in this area, but it is one way I can make a difference in China.


Monday, November 17, 2008

How Much Do You Really Need?

One of my favorite words in the Chinese language is dongxi (pronounced dong-she) which can be roughly translated into English as “stuff/junk/things.” The great thing about dongxi is that it can mean literally tons of different types of objects. If you go to the local chaoshi (supermarket) you can get all kinds of dongxi, from toothpaste to DVD players. If you’re carrying a full backpack you can accurately say, “I have way too much dongxi in this bag.” No further explanation is needed. It might not be the same dongxi as you would find in your kitchen or bathroom, but it is dongxi nonetheless!

Dongxi is an easy word to remember and fun to say. If it’s “stuff” just say dongxi and you’re good to go. I asked my friend if I could say that I have a lot of dongxi to do today, and she said, “Definitely not.” Too bad! I was hoping for an easy connection between objects and activities. This leads me to the real reason I’m writing about dongxi. I last week I moved to another apartment and boy, did I have a lot of dongxi to move!

OK, I know I only came here 3 months ago and I shouldn’t have this much dongxi already, but setting up an apartment requires you to accumulate certain necessities. There’s kitchen dongxi, bathroom dongxi, cleaning dongxi, school/office dongxi, etc… but packing and moving all your dongxi is another matter althogether. In the States I had a car and I could always borrow a friend’s truck or van. Banana boxes were easy to come by if you camped out at the Meijer produce section on shipping day, but I found a whole new way of moving here.

First of all, boxes are not that easy to come by. Instead, most people stuff their dongxi into giant rice bags with zippers. It’s the Chinese equivalent of a suitcase. OK, so they smell like mold inside and they can only be used once before they break. I can live with that though because these bags only cost sixty cents each and the smell eventually fades with time and a good airing out…and you’d be amazed at how much dongxi you can fit into one of those bags!

A second “must-have” when moving is a ball of pink plastic twine. This is necessary for wrapping together boxed dongxi. If you’re Dutch like me you never throw out anything that could be potentially useful at some later date. That being the case, you will naturally have saved the original boxes your dongxi came in when you purchased it and you will have carefully repacked it in the original boxes. The essential pink plastic twine will hold several boxes together for easy transport. It never breaks and it’s also very cheap. Why bother with buying or packing cumbersome large boxes when you have pink twine?

The moving process is…Wow! I’ve never seen anything like it. Since I didn’t have another means of transporting my dongxi except to tie it all onto my bike and haul it down the road (which I’ve actually seen done) I hired a local moving company. They came and hauled all my dongxi from my second floor apartment into their truck, brought it to my new apartment, and carried everything up to the 5th floor…including a washing machine! I couldn’t believe the amount of dongxi they could strap on their backs and carry at one time. I mean seriously! Who carries a washing machine on their back up to the fifth floor without giving themselves a heart attack?

The best part was the price! (Again, it's the Dutchman in me is coming out…sorry!) I actually felt a little bad watching them do what I have always done for myself and paying them so little, ($30) but they insisted that I stop trying to “help” them. I was getting in their way and messing up their system, so I had to stand back. Sometimes I forget that I’m not in the States anymore.

Now that all my dongxi is in my new apartment and I’m just about finished putting everything where I want it, I feel a lot more settled. It’s funny how familiar dongxi can make you feel at home even in new surroundings. Yes, I probably have way less than the average American in this 500 sq. ft. apartment, but I still have way more dongxi than I really need. I’m so very thankful for all the ways I have been provided for. The experience of moving in China is definitely something to remember every time I look around and think that maybe I’d like a little something new. Uhhhh…!


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Long Johns and Laundry

The other day I went to pull out my long underwear as I prepared to face another cold day without the heat. In China most places don’t get the heat turned on in their buildings until November 15th and the days before then can be brutal. Just think about going home to an apartment without insulation made of concrete block and trying to keep warm. The worst part is coming out of the shower in the morning when you are naked, freezing, wet and standing on a wet cold bathroom floor trying hurriedly to dry off before going into a cold bedroom to get dressed. Yikes! Sometimes you wonder if you’re a person or a popsicle!

Anyway, I went to put on my qiu ku (long johns) and I realized that I didn’t have another pair available. Don’t get me wrong…I brought some with me from the States and I bought some from the store here (Men’s XXXL) but I hadn’t done my laundry in several days, so there was nothing clean for me to put on. By the way, do I look or feel like a Men’s XXXL? I didn’t think so!

Laundry is done different here than in the States. If you have money, you can purchase a decent washing machine for about the same price as in the US, but unless you want to spend an extravagant amount of money, you won’t have a dryer. That means you have to plan ahead. None of this, “I’ve got to have my favorite shirt for the party tonight so I’ll just quickly do a load of laundry and be done before it starts” stuff. Oh, no! You will have to wait a day or two before your laundry dries. You do it the old fashioned way- a clothes line or a drying rack.

Usually your apartment will have a balcony (yang tai) with a rope draped across it for hanging clothes, or you can buy a drying rack. I do have a balcony which I use for drying jeans or pants, but for the other more delicate items, I have chosen to use a drying rack which I put inside my living room….mainly because it’s the only place large enough for it to fit. I didn’t particularly want the neighbors looking out their ever-so-close windows and getting a load of my American sized skivvies! It’s hard enough being stared at for being as big and tall as I am, but having your drawers blowing in the wind for all the world to see would just be too much! Still, there seems to be something innately wrong with having all your undergarments hanging around in your living room with the rest of your decorations. It’s especially troublesome and embarrassing when you get unexpected company!

There is an old saying that goes like this: You’re lack of planning is not my emergency! In this case, my lack of planning was my emergency. At that moment I had two choices; either forego the long johns and freeze my touché off, or suck it up and put on a pair of “not so clean” ones. I’ll bet you can guess what I chose and I’ll bet you know what I was doing right after that…laundry!


Monday, October 13, 2008

Take a Deep Breath and Relax-Not!

Living in Michigan I've never really had to think about whether or not the air was clean. I just took it for granted that I would be breathing clean air without a lot of pollutants in it. Of course, I could always count on a little pollen and dust to kick up and irritate my allergies and asthma, but that's the case almost anywhere you go. Tianjin however is much different. I knew that I would be moving to a place that was known for dirt and pollution and I thought I was prepared. I packed allergy meds, a couple of inhalers, and called it good. For the most part, it's has been pretty good-especially since I came during the Olympics. All my colleagues were oohing and aahing over the beautiful blue skies and while I was enjoying them, I did not have the level of appreciation that they did. I was told not to get used to this kind of environment because it would not last long. They were right!

This morning when I got up I was amazed that he world seemed to be in a heavy fog and I couldn't see down the road very far. Even on my way to school, I kept wondering where the TianJin TV tower was hiding. Surely, someone had moved it because it was nowhere to be seen. Usually I have a pretty clear view of its massive structure. You really can see it from all over the city. I use it as a land mark when I'm out biking so in case I get lost I can always head toward it. However, today was a completely different story. No wonder I couldn't get my snotty nose under control yesterday and today! Hopefully, tomorrow will be better!


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Jia You!

This week during National Holiday, a group went to the Great Wall to hike in a remote section called Simatai. There were 2 paths to hike. One was about an hour going east and the other was 3 hours going west. Now it might not seem like a 1-3 hour hike would be that difficult until you realize that the terrain is amazingly steep and the steps up and down the wall have been decaying for decades.

I was the oldest member of our group. Everyone else was from 25-35 years old. Yet, I was determined to once again experience this "Wonder of the World." The last time I had hiked it was in 2003 in a more traveled section. On our first day we went to the east and I was feeling pretty confident. It was a steep climb, but really not too bad. I was energized by the beautiful landscape and clean air of the countryside. I was looking forward to the next day.

We all stayed overnight at a roadside motel, (which is a story unto itself) and early the next morning the seven of us got up, ate breakfast and went right to business. We knew we would have a long day of climbing and we had to be back in time to catch the train from Beijing to Tianjin. It was a gorgeous fall day. The sun was out, the sky was blue and the view was breathtaking. I was definitely ready....or so I thought!

I’d like to say I am part mountain goat, part human, but the truth is that I am fully human, overweight, out of shape, and 47 years old! My idea of exercise in the past year has been exercising self control- limiting myself to one piece of cake instead of two! Yikes!! I found myself looking at treacherous slopes of winding rock and with each new peak and valley I climbed, I wondered how I was going to navigate the next. It was really high up and a really long way down again! We crossed a long chain bridge over a huge body of water and eventually we reached the 18th tower. A guard stationed there said that if we wanted to continue on we had to pay another fee. Actually, I was relieved. I felt quite accomplished in what had already been achieved, and totally satisfied with quitting.

Then it hit me. It wasn’t like stopping meant we were done. Once you’re on the path, there are no exit ramps, no bathrooms, and no way back except the way you came. It is impossible to reach the end of The Wall because it stretches across 2000 miles. It’s not like I could say, “Wow that was great, where’s the elevator?” I had to retrace all those steps and go back to the beginning! I was overwhelmed. I had made it to that point in the journey, but I really wasn't convinced that I could make it back without a physical revolt from my knees.

A popular Chinese chant during the Olympics was "Zhongguo, JiaYou!” It means “Go China!” but it’s literally translated “Add Oil!” At that moment, I knew I was going to need more oil for my journey. The problem was, I didn’t have any. Good thing my oil was only a whisper away! There have been other times in my life when I have been at the end of my resources and additional strength, energy and encouragement have been supernaturally imparted to me: Resources that are far beyond what I could’ve ever mustered up in my own strength... and that’s what I got! Runners refer to it as a second wind, but I refer to it as a wind from on high.
About 3/4 of the way down, we came to this zip-line cable that went across the large waterway we had crossed earlier . Using the zip-line would take you over the water and to a boat near the entrance of Simatai. I was so incredibly sore that I decided that this would be an exciting, dangerous way to end the trip. I figured I was half dead anyway, so if the cable broke, well at least I would go out dramatically. (HaHa) I got strapped in and enthusiastically waved and yelled "ZaiJian" (good-bye) to my friends as I took the plunge off the edge of the platform. It was exhilarating! I was flying through the air held only by a harness around my waist and legs and sliding down a cable that was, who knows how safe! I wasn’t actually brave...or a dare devil; just too stinkin' tired to walk one more step. I really was being carried by the wind from on high! (Youtube video soon to come-Don't freak out ya'all! Search for it with the name chinachick61)
It was a wonderful trip with deep conversations and new bonding relationships being forged.
With every step from the bus to the subway, to the train, to the apartment, I just kept repeating in my head- “JiaYou!” Sometimes the only thing to do is add oil and keep going!

Today if you have some time, read the whole of Chapter 40 in the book of Isaiah. It is a beautiful word picture of One who Is, and it’s great encouragement to those of us who believe. There will always be “Great Walls” in our lives, but there is an even greater One that who knows no boundaries! Jia You!!!


Sunday, September 28, 2008

Are you Kidding Me?

Communicating cross culturally is challenging to say the least! Forget about the language barrier. Let's talk about the idea of social graces and acceptable verbiage. In the West, we find questions about profession, age, and martial status common, although for some mildly annoying. Other comments or questions are just plain "off limits." I would never ask a complete stranger or even a casual acquaintance about their weight, financial status or question their child rearing practices. Yet, this is a common occurrence in China.

A friend of mine was relaying a story about getting his tire pumped up by a local bike repair guy. During their conversation, a buddy of the repair guy stated,
"You're too fat! That's why your tire is flat. You shouldn't ride a bike. What do you usually eat?" Just this last week one of the Chinese interns told a male classmate of mine that his voice was cute and he sounded like a small Japanese girl! Ouch! Talk about crushing a man's masculinity!

These comments sound shocking to us, but believe it or not they are common ways to socially engage and show care, concern or affection for another person. It's called "Guan xin Talk." When someone asks about one's age, financial status, or physical attributes it is generally not to be nosey, but to gain information about another person so that the proper respect or care can be shown to them. For example, when someone is advanced in age or financial accomplishment they are shown special honor. Given that perspective, it makes sense, (sort of) but it still doesn't feel less embarrassing or intrusive. Westerners cherish our individualism and don't feel that anyone has the right to pry into our business, judge us, or give us advise on our weight, finances, or any other matter we consider personal.

That doesn't even start to cover the humiliation of Chinese people staring or laughing at, pointing to, or touching our physical body parts...which for most of us is even more challenging to handle. First of all, let's face the fact that most Chinese women don't have hips or bubble butts...we do! Arm hair in China is normally not present either, so it freaked me out a little bit when a Chinese student started "petting my fur" (arm hair) because it was so interesting to her. I really wanted to crawl in a hole when she bluntly asked, "Are all Americans fat and hairy?"

It's so offensive it's almost funny...except when you are the one in the spotlight. How should one respond when told that Americans should eat less bread and dairy products because it make us fat and smell like sour milk? I'm not really sure yet. If I try to remember that these comments and bits of advise are signs of care, affection and curiosity rather than malicious arrows aimed at tearing apart my formerly strong self esteem, then it's easier to take-most days. As long as they keep their hands off my "interesting" rear end!


Friday, September 19, 2008

Run, Lindy, Run!

After seeing the athletes compete in the Olympic track events, I was amazed. As a kid, I was never very good at running and certainly not running fast. However, I have now been officially admitted to the Chinese Traveler’s Club where occasionally running is essential. People in different regions have terms of endearment for this rite of passage. Some call it having Beijing Belly, the Shenyang Sh**tz, or what I have recently dubbed Tianjin Tummy. No further explanation is needed. You know when you are on the couch, listening to the loud gurgling coming from your mid-section and thinking, “This can’t be good!” ~then you probably are going to become the fasted sprinter on record. It really is part of being an overseas traveler and who knows what can trigger such a gastric revolt. It could be some water you didn’t boil long enough, or some street food that has been just fine for the last 2 weeks and has suddenly gone bad. In any event, it is an expected pitfall of being in a foreign country.

In America we have some very stringent rules about food preparation and about not leaving food out for very long before it is refrigerated. Not so here. Pretty much anything goes and refrigeration is the exception and not the rule. Most of my friends know that I usually have a cast iron stomach. Even after long periods of fasting, I can dive right into a plateful of food and never suffer ill effects. For as many times as I’ve been in China, I’ve never had a “crook in the gut” as my Australian friends say. This time it kicked my butt!

There is one good result of Tianjin Tummy. I have now officially lost over the 10 pounds since my medical exam 3 weeks ago. After losing 7lbs. the correct way through proper diet (whatever that is) and exercise, the Tianjin Tummy pushed me off of my weight loss plateau and into the next level of health. (?) Not that I still don’t need to take off some weight, (because according to Chinese stereotypes all Americans are fat, lazy slobs) but this method of weight loss sure isn’t going to be bottled and sold to anyone but the most desperate souls. I recommend the walking and biking. It’s a lot easier on your system and you won’t waste a lot of money on TP.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Facing "Face Issues"

Americans cherish the right to have their own thoughts, to speak their minds, and be uniquely individual. It is just the opposite in China. We think individually, whereas in Asian culture it's all about the whole and "face issues." So, what exactly does that mean? Well, simply put it means "putting on your best face." It means doing your very best not to upset the balance or offend someone~not to cause them or you embarrassment or public shame. Some Americans would say, "Well, that's just not reality and it's not honest, either." But in the Chinese way of thinking, it's not being fake or dishonest. It's just omitting the negative to the extreme so the positive can be highlighted. Being wrong is not something to be pointed out in order to improve, it is to be hidden so as not to cause shame for someone. Saving face means using indirect means of confronting issues...very un-American.

This is one of the reasons why hosting the 2008 Olympics and doing an excellent job of it was critical for China. It was a way to show the country's economic development and gain "face" with the world. Being critical of China, their policies, their environmental issues, etc... is a slap in their "face" and definitely offensive. As someone who has been part of watching the progress that China has made over the past 5 years, I can honestly say that I am truly in awe of the sweeping changes that China has least economically. Americans forget that there are 1.3 billion people here! It's a huge ship to turn and you have to give them a lot of credit for doing what they've done so far.

This is also why I was so excited about Beijing hosting the Paralympics and Special Olympics. People with disabilities in China have historically been hidden so as not to be a shame to their families. Five years ago, I never saw a disabled child or even a wheelchair on the streets. Everyone with a disability was kept inside or was institutionalized...not unlike it used to be in the States. Today things are changing. I see more and more wheelchairs, and some schools for the disabled are slowly popping up around the country. The Paralympics have given new exposure to people with disabilities and encouragement for those who have previously not been given opportunities to be part of Chinese society. What a joy it was for me to witness the cheering crowds at the Wheelchair Rugby event. It warmed my heart to see the support for these athletes. Maybe it's my heart for kids with special needs, but I am hopeful that this will be the start of something good for everyone with disabilities.

I'm not saying that China, like every country with its unique culture doesn't have a long way to go in dealing with its own issues. Being positive is a good thing. I sometimes wish that Americans weren't so out there with everything...even those things that shouldn't be talked about in public. But facing these "face issues" is a really important thing to address and I'm sure it will be a work in progress for many years to come.


Friday, September 12, 2008

What's for Dinner?

I remember Ryan and Lacey coming through the door at night asking, "Hey, Mom. What's for dinner?" I never really was the Rachel Ray type so they could always count on something familiar like spaghetti ala Prego or my specialty...Stouffer's lasagna! Now that I'm here in China without all the conveniences of a local Meijer store, I have to fend for myself. Going to the local cai shi chang (vegetable and fruit market) is an amazing experience in sensory overload! There are sights, sounds, and smells that we never get in the States, and some I'm sure are very glad about that!

I generally try to go to the same vendors in order to build the relationship and practice my Chinese with people that know I'll be back to patronize their stands. The fruit lady is really nice and when she sees me coming, she makes a special point to greet me and give me a small basket to put my fruit in. The fruit is really delicious! I could eat it all day, everyday. The vegetable lady is the same, but she is always very busy, so she doesn't have much time for small talk, which is all I can really do right now.

It's very interesting to wander around the market and check things out. I usually stay away from the fish and meat stands because they often smell like...well dead meat. It's pretty rank about 4pm when the owner and the product have literally been hanging out all day waiting for a buyer. The fish and crabs are pretty interesting. A lot of the fish look like snakes. Nothing like the "snakes" we threw back while fishing at the lake in Minnesota. I'd take them over these any day of the week. Yuck! Nothing is refrigerated, so if you buy eggs or perishable items you have to cook them up right away. Who knows how long they've been sitting there in the summer heat.

I've tried to attach a short video on my dinner for tonight. It can also be seen on Youtube if you search for Chinachick or chinachick61. Bon Appetite


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Theft Proof

Well, I took the plunge last week and started riding a bike around town. I was understandably nervous the first week, seeing how difficult it can be to maneuver in crowded streets. Learning the flow of traffic is very tricky because there aren't really any hard and fast rules of the road. Vehicles don't stop on red lights when they turn right and crosswalks are not "safe spots" for bikes or pedestrians. They just mark the areas where people should cross...not that that is followed either. When I arrived in Tianjin, we got a "bike talk" and a two page hand-out on how to ride as safely as possible, and what to do if there is an accident. The rule of thumb is, "Go slowly, and follow a local." One thing is for sure-you always have to be aware of everything/everyone around you because if you aren't, you're an accident waiting to happen!

Another thing that is just something you have to accept. At some point, your bike will be stolen. Most people have at least 2 locks on their bikes and even then there are no guarantees. Nice bikes and foreigner's bikes are prime targets for theft. One of my friends here has lost 4 bikes so far! But some of the associates have discovered an effective deterrent...spray paint! The resale of a stolen bike is non-existent if the bike is too ugly or too identifiable. Also, certain color combinations like red and green are considered really ugly and disgusting to the Chinese, so you guessed it! That's what I spray painted my bike.

You should've seen the stares and giggles I got riding my newly painted bike down the if I'm not conspicuous enough! No self respecting Chinese would be caught dead on a bike like mine, so maybe-just maybe, I'll have it for awhile. I mean I paid $6 for this used bike and the Dutchman in me says six bucks is six bucks! No use giving it away. I should still probably get a second lock for my bike, but I have a feeling the spray paint is a better investment than any lock would be.

For a video clip of traffic in Tianjin, go to the Youtube on the side of this blog and write in "bignoseforeigner." Scroll down the clips until you find the clip on traffic/crossing the street. My friend Joel and his wife, Jessica have some great clips. This will give you a taste of what it's like to bike here. Enjoy!


Friday, August 29, 2008

My New Love

As Americans we use the "L word" way too loosely, so in keeping with my cultural tradition, I have to say it. I love my floor squigee! I can't help it. I honestly think that it is the best invention of this century-Seriously!

In my apartment I have what is commonly referred to as a shoilet. This is a combination shower/toilet. I am very happy to have a western toilet instead of a "squatty potty", but in China most of the showers (if you have a shower) are not enclosed. There is a shower head that comes out from the wall and a drain near the base of the toilet. When you shower, water flies all over the bathroom covering the sink, toilet, walls. I also have a washing machine that has to be hooked up in one of the corners of the bathroom so when I do a load of laundry the water from the washtub runs across the floor as well, because the connecting hose is only about a foot long and doesn't stretch to the drain hole in the floor. Needless to say, the floor is constantly wet and slippery, so a floor squigee can literally be a lifesaver!

I did manage to find a large tension rod and a shower curtain which helps, but discovering the floor squigee was like discovering gold. Every morning when I hop into that freezing cold shower, (which eventually does get warm if I run the sink faucets on full blast) I comfort myself with the knowledge that in just a few short minutes I will once again have a clean body and a dry floor...thanks to my trusty
42Yuan ($6) squigee.

They say that you will go to great lengths to cherish, protect, and fight for the people or things that you love. Maybe I really do love my squigee!


Monday, August 25, 2008

This Ain't Your Home Theater

Yesterday a group of us, weiguoren (foreigners) watched the closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. No, we didn't get lucky and score tickets to the Bird's Nest, but instead we headed to the local park to join 5,000 or so of our not-so-close Chinese friends. Literally, thousands of people were gathered in the square to view the pomp and circumstances. People sat on newspapers, sandals, or small folding stools to vicariously enjoy the event of the century. The massive screen loomed high above the ground was very impressive. It was like a gigantic drive-in movie without the cars.

Of course, we were also a spectacle as we strolled through the sea of onlookers, turning their heads to observe our every move. The local television station was there of course, and quickly capitalized on the opportunity to spotlight the foreigners in their city. One of our friends, Gregg, the most blond haired, blue eyed guy was interviewed for the news and we all had stars in our eyes from the mob of camera guys wanting to take our picture. I'm sure it's on the front page of some Chinese newspaper somewhere in Tianjin. The paparazzi has nothing on these guys! We are definitely celebs here...especially when we travel as a herd...I mean group.

Anyway, we sat on the hard concrete throughout the entire 3 hour program, but it was OK. As soon as I got up the blood started rushing to my numb rear and all was well again with the world. What a great privilege to be in the host country during the Olympics! Yes, there is a lot of mafan (trouble) that goes with it, but still... this is what memories are made of.


Saturday, August 23, 2008

Wake Up and Smell the Tea

Most of you who know me well, know that I generally start my day with a 20 oz. mug of Speedway coffee. Well, that had to come to a screeching halt when I hit China. Water and tea are the beverages of choice here and Americans are probably the only ones really familiar with the pounding headaches that come with caffeine withdraw. Imagine my joy when I discovered a fun little coffee shop in Hong Kong called the Charlie Brown Cafe. There I was surrounded by Peanuts characters all enjoying caffinated beverages of every kind...with their picture imprinted on the foam atop the mug. Despite the 92 degree temperature and the 90% humidity (Yikes!) I just couldn't pass up the chance to hang out with Snoopy and have a hazelnut latte with a picture of Woodstock on it. Oh, the pleasure of simple things! Well worth the sweating. :)


Mountain Top Experience

In life we will always have hills and valleys, mountain top experiences and times spent in what feels like dry and barren places. My orientation in Hong Kong was literally a mountain top experience. Our group stayed at a retreat center called Tao Fang Shan, renowned for its work interfacing with Buddhist Monks. The group of new associates met for six days to review organizational information, get practical tips on how to adjust to Chinese culture and to bond together as a group. We were also joined by the JHF HongKong staff. It was a much needed time of refreshing for me after the hurried pace of the past few months. I really appreciated having time to reflect on deep level issues.

Our Orientation Group
Because I had jet lag for nearly the whole time there, I found myself waking up several times a night and having the opportunity to walk early in the morning just as the sun was peeking over the horizon. My two favorite spots were the Lotus Crypt (a private underground sanctuary for meditation and reading) and the Tao Fong Shan Cross; a huge crucifix on a hill overlooking the city below. It was there that I again felt inspired (despite my weariness) to revisit my calling and recommit myself to do whatever it would take to serve well in China. So many things can distract us, and sometimes it takes being awakened in the night, or the wee hours of the morning to get our focus in the right direction. There's only one thing worthy of our complete attention...the cross.
We also had the chance to visit downtown Hong Kong for a nighttime light show in the harbor, and to take a trip to "The Peak." My words can't really capture it's beauty, but here's what someone else wrote about it:

The Peak Hong Kong

The Peak Hong Kong has been the preferred residence since the British arrived in 1841. From The Peak’s various vantage points spectacular vistas take in most of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, much of the New Territories, the outlying islands, mainland China, and Macau. A trip to The Peak should be one of the first things visitors do after arriving in Hong Kong, not only for its world-famous views, but to gain a perspective of the city. Pick a cloudless day and make two journeys, one during daylight and another in the evening to catch a memorable image of Hong Kong illuminated.
Most visitors to Victoria Peak arrive by a funicular railway, which climbs out of Central at an impossible angle to reach the upper station at the Peat Tower – a metallic, bowl-shaped landmark. From the terrace on the fifth floor of the tower, the views are quite outstanding, looking down the mountain to the high-rise apartments of the Mid-Levels and the gleaming office towers crowded into Central, and beyondthat across busy Victoria Habor to Tsim Sha Tsui and kowloon, backed by the green jagged mountains of the New Territories. It is amazing!
Hoping that you will experience your own "mountain top experience" and be refreshed for the task that you have been called to.


Friday, August 15, 2008

In the Beginning

In Chinese culture, beginnings and endings are very important. This year, 2008, is said to be the year of new beginnings. Certainly, this is the case for me and my family. Ryan has a new photography business ( and has begun a new marriage with his lovely wife, Holly. Lacey also started a new chapter of her life as she married David Foster, a wonderful guy she met at WMU. I now have a new home in China, and have a new job learning Chinese. I've met a lot of new people and have encountered a new set of challenges as I adjust to a new culture. I am even going by a new name (Lindy) which is not new to my dad, or my best friend Becky, but new to a lot of you. It's OK if it takes you awhile to adjust to calling me Lindy. I understand how hard it is to change something you've done for years...but give it a try! It will definitely take awhile for me to adjust to all the newness as well, but if I can do it, so can you. :)

In all the changes, I am excited about the possibilites. They are endless! I am really looking forward to this new chapter in my life, anticipating all that has been pre-planned for my future. I am confident that I will discover wonders and treasures that will enrich my life and help me contribute to the lives of others in China. Thanks for taking this ride with me and encouraging me along the way. I hope that reading China Chatter will expand your horizons and give you a new perspective on the people and culture in China. HuanYing! (Welcome!)